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15 posts from April 23, 2013

April 23, 2013

Legislators prepare for potential 'fracking' in Florida

No one knows if Florida is going to be the next frontier for the new generation of oil and gas drilling known as fracking, but state legislators say — just in case — it’s time to write rules to require disclosure of the controversial technology.

The Florida House on Wednesday is expected to pass a bill that will require companies to disclose what chemicals they use when they explore for oil and gas using the controversial extraction process.

Fracking uses hydraulic fracturing technology to inject water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations. Oil and gas is released through the fissures and is captured by wells, built at the sites. Environmentalists warn that the chemical makeup of the fluid that is pumped into the ground could contaminate groundwater and release harmful pollutants, such as methane, into the air.

"The Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act," sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodriques, R-Estero, would require the state Division of Resource Management to set up an online chemical registry for owners and operators of wells, service companies, and suppliers that use hydraulic fracturing.

The bill also requires the information to be posted on the web site, FracFocus.org, an online clearinghouse run by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. More here. 

 

Group tackles creation of new Miami-Dade cities

@PatriciaMazzei

Now that he’s a county commissioner, Juan C. Zapata readily makes this uncomfortable admission: During his eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, he did more for the cities in his South Miami-Dade district than for its stand-alone neighborhoods.

Cities had elected politicians and paid lobbyists jostling for limited state dollars. Neighborhoods didn’t. In the end, the cities got more money for more projects, Zapata said. The neighborhoods were left behind.

“I was able to do nothing for my unincorporated areas,” Zapata has lamented from the commission dais.

That perceived inequity is one of the crucial reasons Zapata, who now represents a swath of unincorporated western suburbs, and other commissioners have given for endorsing countywide incorporation, which would require every inch of Miami-Dade to belong to a city — just like in Broward County.

The long-discussed concept has been recently taken up by a new task force charged with making recommendations on how Miami-Dade should proceed.

That neighborhoods will try to incorporate is a given. A year ago, commissioners lifted a five-year ban on new cities, opening the door for five communities that had already declared their cityhood intentions to revive their efforts. But should the county take an all-or-nothing approach and require that every neighborhood join an existing city or form a new one? And if not, how could Miami-Dade ensure that unincorporated communities receive an adequate level of public services?

More here.

Miami Dolphins: Super Bowl hopes rest on stadium makeover

via @doug_hanks

The Miami Dolphins and local tourism officials presented the National Football League on Tuesday with the most expensive Super Bowl bid in South Florida’s history, but the team’s CEO said amped-up entertainment options won’t be enough if voters don’t approve a subsidized renovation of Sun Life Stadium.

An upgraded stadium “is the only impediment between us and success,’’ Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said in a telephone press conference after a closed-door meeting in New York with NFL executives over the region’s Super Bowl bid. “We have a beautiful home with a rusty fence.”

South Florida’s Super Bowl Host Committee expects to spend about $21 million in private and public funds putting on the kind of Super Bowl outlined in the thick binder presented to NFL executives in New York. The confidential proposal includes creating a Super Bowl theme park in downtown Miami, including closing down Biscayne Boulevard, constructing a “Hail Mary Zip Line” along the waterfront and possibly mooring barges to accommodate some of the action, according to interviews and leaked details about the plans.

“We were impressed by the feedback,’’ Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the local Super Bowl committee, said after the NFL meeting. “We were applauded.”

This week, the NFL met with the three metropolitan areas pursuing Super Bowls 50 and 51 before final bids are due May 7. South Florida and the San Francisco area are competing for the 50th game in 2016, and the loser will take on Houston for the 51st game in 2017.

More here.

Dolphins begin stadium renovation campaign with mailer, visits to Miami-Dade senior centers

Photo@PatriciaMazzei

The first domestic absentee ballots were sent Tuesday for the May 14 referendum asking Miami-Dade voters to approve a subsidized renovation to Sun Life Stadium. And timed with their release was the Miami Dolphins' first campaign flier.

The piece highlights the team's estimate that the $350 million stadium face-lift will create 4,000 jobs and promises the upgrades would attract more Super Bowls, college football championships and international soccer games. "The Miami Dolphins and tourists will pay, not county property taxpayers," the political advertisement says. It's paid for by the team's campaign arm, a political action committee named Friends of Miami First. (More here.)

The mailer does not break down how much public money the stadium would receive -- up to $289 million from the county and $90 million from the state, both over 30 years -- though the it says the Dolphins would repay $159 million. That number comes from the $112 million and the $47 million the team has pledged to refund the county and the state, respectively, at the end of 30 years. That's, of course, if Florida lawmakers sign off on providing the state sales-tax subsidy and allowing Miami-Dade to raise the hotel-tax rate to 7 percent from 6 percent -- which is left unmentioned in the flier.

Dolphins campaign workers have also apparently been making the roundsd at Miami-Dade senior centers, home to reliable, older Hispanic voters who typically cast ballots (usually by mail) in every election. Sweetwater photo

"Vote sí por la modernización del estadio Sun Life," read a poster standing next to seniors having lunch Tuesday at the Claude and Mildred Pepper Senior Activities Center in Sweetwater. Vote yes for the modernization of Sun Life Stadium.

"Our grassroots supporters have been fanning out across the county speaking to community centers, going door to door, and discussing the benefits of this plan with their friends and neighbors," Miami First spokesman Eric Jotkoff told The Miami Herald in a statement. 

--with reporting by El Nuevo Herald staff writer Brenda Medina

Environmentalists enlist Graham to help stop industry train

A pair of bills now steamrolling through the Florida House and Senate have drawn such strong objections from environmental groups that former Sen. Bob Graham flew to Tallahassee this week to lobby against them.

The two bills — HB 999 sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patronis and SB 1684 by Sen. Thad Altman — are packed with provisions relating to sugar company leases in the Everglades, making it easier to wipe out wetlands and limiting the power of water districts to control pumping.

Why bring in Graham? Because "there's a whole big army of 40 or 50 lobbyists working on the other side," explained Estus Whitfield of the Florida Conservation Coalition. By comparison "the environmental voice has been a little chirp in the distance."

Graham said he got involved because the two bills "don't advance any interest of the public, just special interests."

Continue reading "Environmentalists enlist Graham to help stop industry train" »

House advances bill to disclose 'fracking' chemicals

No one knows if Florida is going to be the next frontier for the new generation of oil and gas drilling known as fracking, but state legislators say its time to write rules to require disclosure of the controversial technology just in case. 

A bill expected to be approved in the Florida House on Wednesday will require companies to disclose what chemicals they use when they explore for oil and gas using the controversial extraction process. 

Fracking uses hydraulic fracturing technology to inject water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations to release hydrocarbons buried within them. Environmentalists warn that the chemical makeup of the fluid that is pumped into the ground could contaminate groundwater and release harmful pollutants, such as methane, into the air.   

"The Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act" by Rep. Ray Rodriquez, R-Estero, would require the state Division of Resource Management to set up an online chemical registry for owners and operators of wells, service companies, and suppliers that use hydraulic fracturing.

The bill also requires the information to be posted on the web site, FracFocus.org, an online clearinghouse run by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

Rodriques said the bill, HB 743, is neither a pro-fracking or anti-fracking. “It’s a transparency bill,” he said. A similar measure is moving in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. 

PolitiFact Florida: Checking Sen. Chris Smith's column on election reform

If you're not up to speed on the elections package up for a Senate vote Wednesday, check out this PolitiFact Florida fact-check outlining how it would change voting.

The fact-check explores claims by Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, in a Sunday op-ed for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Smith and other Democrats have criticized SB 600/HB 7013 for not going far enough to address problems that came up during the state's 2012 presidential election.

"This bill mandates only two things that will address concerns from the last election," he wrote. "It allows persons to correct an absentee ballot if they did not sign it and requires an extra two hours a day for early voting. Everything else in this bill is discretionary. Under SB 600, Broward, Dade, Palm Beach, Duval, Orange, Hillsborough, Jackson, Franklin, Dixie and all the rest of our 67 counties can do exactly what they did in 2012, with the exception of just two more hours per day for early voting. Nothing else is mandated. Nothing else is changed."

Read why we rated his claim about the bill's scant requirements Half True.

Gov. Scott finding one 'Great Floridian' after another

When Gov. Rick Scott honored former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow as a "Great Floridian" recently, he was just getting warmed up.

Scott sees greatness everywhere.

For a governor hobbled by chronically low poll numbers, sharing the spotlight with Tebow and his radiant smile this month brought Scott the kind of exposure he couldn't buy. Scott needs to find a good vibe wherever he can, so he will replicate the Tebow award, over and over again.

This week, he'll name 22 other people "Great Floridians" for their
contributions to the state, a third as many people who received the honor since the Legislature created it in 1981 to recognize people "who have made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of this state."

Scott single-handedly chose most of the latest group, including athletes,
politicians, business and military leaders, and even the University of Florida researcher who created Gatorade. They are Democrat and Republican, living and dead, men and women, but mostly men (19 of 23).

The honorees include former Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula, former Gators football player and coach Steve Spurrier, 2012 Masters golf champion Bubba Watson Jr., former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Irvin, and Dr. Pedro Jose Greer Jr., an advocate for homeless and disadvantaged people in Miami.

Others include Betty Sembler of St. Petersburg, who has championed drug treatment efforts; former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy; the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf War; former state agriculture commissioner Charles Bronson; and former state treasurer Bill Gunter.

Some historians wonder whether the greatness may be getting out of hand.

"There are plenty of great people in the state of Florida," said Rivers
Buford III, who until this year was the Senate appointee who nominated award recipients. "But I don't think there's a wall big enough in the state of Florida for all the plaques that are being awarded."

Walt Disney will be recognized. So will novelist Patrick Smith, agricultural leader Ruth Springer Wentworth, former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alto Lee Adams, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, retired Gen. Craig McKinley, clothing designer Lilly Pulitzer and entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga, who has donated $450,000 to Scott's political committee.

Scott's thirst for greatness prompted him to include Dr. James Robert Cade, who led a team of UF researchers that created Gatorade in 1965.

"It's just trying to find people that have done something significant in our
state," Scott said Tuesday. "It's a good thing that we have such great people all around our state. One of the great things about the 19.2 million people living in our state is you can be proud of a lot of them."

-- Steve Bousquet

Jay Odom gets 6-month sentence for illegal campaign contributions

PENSACOLA (AP) -- Panhandle developer Jay Odom was sentenced to six months in federal prison after pleading guilty to a charge of making illegal contributions in the 2008 presidential primary.

A federal judge sentenced Odom, who owns Destin Jet, on Tuesday morning. He faced up to five years in prison. Federal investigators alleged that he illegally funneled $23,000 to the campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Odom circumvented federal finance laws by repaying 10 associates who each gave a maximum $2,300 donation to Huckabee.

Controversial 'parent trigger' survives last committee stop in Senate

As expected, Sen. Kelli Stargel's parent trigger bill won the support of the Senate appropriations panel Tuesday -- and is now headed to the Senate floor.

There was, however, one plot twist.

At a previous committee stop, Sen. David Simmons added language that would give school districts the final say in determining how to improve a struggling school. (That is, they could ignore a group of parents demanding change.) Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto filed an amendment Monday to remove that provision, and let the state Board of Education make the final call.

But Stargel had the amendment withdrawn at the start of Tuesday's hearing.

It isn't that Stargel wants to keep Simmons's language. In fact, she wants it stripped from the bill, too. 

"I want to make sure parent voices are actually heard and not just taken under advisement," she said, adding that Simmons also had a change of heart about the language. 

But Stargel said she needed more time to figure out how to "best handle the situation." She said she would likely bring an amendment to the Senate floor.

When asked why she supported Simmons's amendment at the earlier committee stop, Stargel said she didn't read it until "five minutes" before the hearing, and that she hadn't had time to work through the potential implications.

The trigger bill (sans amendment) passed out of the appropriations committee in a party-lines vote.

Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton gave his support, but only because the Benaquisto amendment was withdrawn and school districts maintained authority.

"Should it go any further than that, you are going to have a constitutional problem," Blanton said, noting that the Florida Constitution requires elected school boards (not appointed bodies like the state Board of Education) to oversee local schools.